Monday, January 7, 2013

Time capsule: "Women Eager Students of After-Dinner Speaking"

Even today, women speakers sometimes report getting a sense that men (and some women) in their audiences are thinking "who does she think she is?" That's historically been more the rule than the exception for women speakers, as an early 20th century report in the New York Times demonstrates.

The August 14, 1910 article Banquet Oratory Now College Course (available in PDF for New York Times subscribers), with the subheadings "Visitor to Columbia University Finds Women Eager Students of After-Dinner Speaking" and "SUSPECT SUFFRAGETTE PLOT," is not a model of journalistic reporting, as the lede paragraph demonstrates:
If anyone doubts that the insurrection of women in this country means business, let him invade the class in "platform speaking," which is a part of the up-to-date menu of education provided by the Summer School of Columbia University....a man was found the other day who said he had just been there.
This fine source of information describes at length the more attractive female students, but notes that most of the women who made up two-thirds of the class were "severely businesslike." When instructed to rest her hand on the back of a chair, one of the students attempting to speak was described as having "gripped the chair with a nervous strength which suggested that she expected to have to use it at any moment as a lethal weapon." This in turn led the observer to suspect the class was a thinly veiled training ground for suffragettes. No other reason could be determined for women learning to speak in public, unless it was to go out to rally for voting rights.

Cast as an unsolved mystery--"the feminine complexion of the class remained to be explained"--the article alludes to women's desire to speak in public as hardly credible, which was true for the day. The remainder of the article spends a lot of time harping about the fact that a class in platform speaking did not, in fact, include a platform, nor did the after-dinner speaking instruction include a dinner. If that all exaggeration sounds ridiculous, remember the root of that word is "ridicule," which the article certainly does.

For perspective, in 2013 the blog will begin sharing "time capsules" about women and public speaking from historic documents and sources.If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

A Martin Luther King quote for the new year
For the new year, a new feature on the blog. Readers who follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook are already used to seeing links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. Now I'll be reversing the process by summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog, so all readers can benefit. Every weekly speaker toolkit will include a mix of the practical and the inspirational for speakers, especially women speakers. Here's a look at the week just past:
  • Speaking up to stop the wage gap: Previous studies have shown that women in the workplace often don't ask for raises, not because they don't think they deserve them, but because they think their chances are less good than those of male peers, and they've been right about that. But experts still feel that women shouldn't settle for less. Now there's a slew of programs aimed at revving up the stalled progress toward closing the wage gap, with programs at universities, Girl Scout troops, YWCAs and more, and the focus of these training efforts it to get women used to speaking up for better pay.
  • A toast to Toastmasters: This woman writes about enrolling in Toastmasters to overcome her speaking fears, but only after attending a sample meeting and deciding not to join. She writes, "What I didn’t realize then was that the meetings aren’t mandatory and the program is self paced. I also didn’t grasp how supportive and non-threatening the environment truly is. Luckily that sunk in this summer and I faced my fears, became a member and am now loving the experience."
  • I made a town meeting gasp is the account of a fearful speaker who got up the nerve on an issue important to her, sustainable transportation. Read how she managed to make her point stick with a prop, and how she felt about speaking up in a very public setting.
  • Sound good? Care of your voice is critical, particularly for frequent speakers. Make use of these tips for keeping your voice healthy, originally aimed at singers by an experienced engineer and producer.
  • About the quote: The blog shares visual quotes about speaking on the Facebook page and on Pinterest. This Martin Luther King, Jr. quote was our New Year's Day post on Facebook and can be found on The Eloquent Woman's Pinterest board of quotes about public speaking.
  • Toward better presos: A legendary ad man shared this advice on organizing presentations back in 1981, and it's still useful stuff to know.
  • Storytelling about storytelling? Yes, and it works in this playlist of 6 TED talks about telling stories. Kick back and get educated on a skill every speaker should have in her toolkit.
If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you.